samedi 17 novembre 2007
To understand the current situation In Tunisia, one has to go back to the mid-fifties, to the first independence. In 1956, Bourguiba and his regime set up a policy based on four fundamental choices, three of them which proved to be positive and one which was catastrophic. The three positive choices were education, women’s liberation and Market economy. During the first three decades, more than 30% of the total budget was spent on education. In the eighties, this endowed Tunisia with well-educated youth, and one of the most important elites in the Arab world. The status of women improved significantly with the ban on polygamy, access to education, more social and political equality, and above all access to birth control, In turn, marked improvement in the status of Tunisian women was a factor in the improvement in the situation of the society as a whole. For instance, contrary to Algeria or Egypt, Tunisia never faced serious pressure on the health system, on housing, or on the job market. In 1969, the regime resorted to a so-called socialist solution to develop the economy. The result was a big leap backwards and a real catastrophe from the social and economic point of view. Fortunately Bourguiba, who was a pragmatic man, abandoned this policy and turned to developing a free market economy. Although the side effects of this choice led to the uprising of 1984, nevertheless it has spurred since the early 1970s, a 7 percent annual growth rate. However, the choice which proved to be Bourguiba’s greatest mistake was opting for an authoritarian regime, based on the rule of an unquestionable leader, supported by a monolithic ruling party. Tunisian civil society had been very active, even under the French occupation. The ruling party had to cope, from the establishment of the new state, with independent and strong workers’ unions, the first independent human rights league in the Arab word created in 1977, an embryo of a free press, and even with some tiny but independent democratic parties. In the eighties, the contradiction between a backward regime and a developed society gave rise to continual conflict. Bourguiba - as pragmatic as usual - allowed a sort of semi-democratic situation but was reluctant to cross the line to build up a real democratic state. In his old age, poor health and declining mentally, but holding firmly to power as president for life, he became an obstacle to the evolution of the very country he had done so much to advance into the modern era. In 1987 the divorce became obvious between a civil society, eager to make Tunisia the first democratic Arab country, and a state trying to maintain a totalitarian grip on its power arguing that Tunisia was threatened by a growing Islamic movement and that security must prevail over liberty. * Next followed the medical coup of Ben Ali in November 1987. As the new head of state, he promised to make the necessary aggiornemento of the state, to develop bonds with with civil society and to promote a real democratisation, including abolishing presidency for life. Sadly, not only has he blocked what was an active process of internal democratisation since the seventies, but he reversed it.
Professor of public health - Writer - former chair of the Tunisian Human Rights league, President of a democratic and illegal political party ‘’The Congress for the Republic” www.moncefmarzouki.net
During his twenty years in office, at every celebration of the coup, Ben Ali repeats the same mantra : Tunisia is moving slowly but surely towards real democracy, while in fact, the country has moved slowly and surely from a proto -democratic state in the eighties to one of the worst police states in the world. Under Ben Ali, Tunisia can be compared in terms of human rights violations and lack of public and individual freedoms, with Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia, far behind Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, some Gulf States — and even Algeria. From 1991 to 1993, more than 30,000 Tunisians were arrested mistreated, tortured, jailed - never for a violent action, only for their political opinions. We do not know exactly how many died under torture, probably about forty Tunisians. The pretext was the combat against the Islamic threat, and the fear of contagion of Algerian extremism. This was merely a pretext to establish a pure dictatorship . Morocco had also an Islamic movement and borders with Algeria but took the opposite tack, promoting more liberties and reconciliation between the society and the state. * Ben Ali declared war not only on the peaceful Islamic party “Ennahda’’, but also on civil society as a whole, mainly represented by secular democrats . He adopted what he thought a very smart policy, which in fact proved a ridiculous and cynical one — Human Rights is a modern ideology ! Let us adopt it and let us celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But torture must go on, to keep the population neutralized. The Tunisian Human Rights League, which refused to cover up his egregious human rights violations , was dissolved officially in June 1992. It was allowed to resume activities in 1993, under severe restrictions and obliging it to fight for its survival Only Amnesty international could never work freely. Other human rights association, such as the ‘’National Council for Liberties in Tunisia’’, or ‘’the International Association to Support Political Prisoners’’, never received official permission to operate and were constantly harassed. Freedom of association is the main demand of civil society ! Let us create our own opposition parties devoted to changing the system. In Tunisia, they can put forward candidates to run against me in the so-called elections, create also hundreds of non-governmental organisations. They can gather signatures on petitions against the reports of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International. You see, the reality in Tunisia is that the real NGOS ,the unions, and the political parties have been infiltrated, and are controlled and paralysed by an omnipotent, cynical, anti-democratic secret police. A free press is necessary in a democracy. So, let us create dozens of so-called independent newspapers allowed to talk about sports, sex, scandals, but not about political thoughts, torture, and corruption. From the beginning, the dictator tried to regain total control of independent journalists and free media. A few days after the coup, the independent newspaper ERRAI which played an important role under Bourguiba criticising the regime and promoting human rights values was shut down one month after the coup . Then ‘’Le Maghreb’’, ‘’Le Phare’’ both French speaking independent newspapers disappeared.
Elections are necessary in democracy ! Why not ? In 1989, 1994, and 1999 he elected himself with 99 percent of the votes. In 2002, he amended the constitution to grant himself total immunity from prosecution for life and to be allowed to run as many times as he wishes - in fact to re establish presidency for life. Of course he obtained his usual 99 percent of the vote and was elected by nearly the same margin in the 2004 so-called presidential elections. Now he is preparing himself to respond to the anxious wishes of his devoted people to run in 2009. Mock democracy can be the best description of Ben Ali‘s regime. Unfortunately for him even a sophisticated dictatorship cannot afford a mock Internet or a mock Al Jazeera. One has to return to the old techniques. The Internet is under severe surveillance in Tunisia by one the best e-police in the world. The government tried to outlaw dishes in the nineties but failed to prevent Al Jazeera to become the real national television, his own TV stations, being completely despised and ignored by Tunisians. Last year, Ben Ali severed diplomatic relations with Qatar just because I was invited by Al Jazeera to speak about the political situation in Tunisia. Needless to say in Tunisia, books, newspapers, films are subjected to strict censorship. To fully understand the kind of regime we have in our country, one must not only consider the repression endured by members and leaders of civil society but also the means used : mock pornographic films and pictures to dishonour Islamic or human rights activists, theft of their cars, false accusations of rape, confiscation of their passports, firing them from jobs, threats against their families, and harsh daily surveillance and harassment. In fact, Ben Ali and his acolytes would have been jailed in this country or in any other democratic country where the rule of law has a meaning, not for political reasons but for using such methods normally considered to be criminal activities against other citizens. Unfortunately our judiciary, never independent even under Bourguiba , is a simple machine to aid the (secret) police in carrying out their jobs, no matter how offensive and we expect nothing from our courts. Tunisia is not a rogue state, but it is led by a rogue.
* The Tunisian problem is not only its deep political crisis, but an unbridgeable gap between the state and civil society. Its problem is also the collapse of vital social systems including the Judiciary, health and educational systems. The widely-known corruption of the families of Ben Ali and his wife has become an example, a model and an excuse for a corrupt police, administration, and judiciary etc. If one adds to this endemic corruption, the lack of transparency, the absence of evaluation, which could lead to questioning the ruler’s responsibilities, one can imagine the integrity of those systems with ties to the political system. Some people argue that Tunisia is doing well economically, especially when you compare it with other Arab countries, including those which are much richer This is true, but not because of Ben Ali’s policies. Let us say that this is in spite of Ben Ali and his policies. Tunisia has enjoyed a growth rate of 7 percent since the seventies because of its industrious, educated population, its expatriates working abroad, mainly in Western Europe who send remittances to Tunisia, its tourism sector, and also due to a small but dynamic entrepreneurial and business community. Even businesses are complaining about the negative role of the two families (Ben Ali’s and his wife’s) hoping to share in their profits from every fruitful field, and trying to control the economy with the same techniques used to control the society. Tunisian society is also in a deep moral ; spiritual crisis. The climate of fear, humiliation, and despair is undermining the spirits of the people and especially the youth. The rates of suicide, divorce, and crimes are rising and mosques have never been so full.
In December 2006 Tunisia faced for the first time since 1980, an uprising perpetrated by an unknown Islamist armed group. This might be the beginning of a new era of violence which could be extremely harmful for an economy depending on six million European tourists visiting Tunisia every year. What we know for sure is that many Tunisians are fighting in Iraq and that they might come back at any time. Ben Ali’s policy - refusing all political reforms, sticking to power, preparing a new 99 percent win in the next presidential elections in 2009, in the context of a growing economic and social unrest - is leading Tunisia inevitably towards more suffering and an unpredictable future. The Tunisian people are peaceful ; the Tunisian opposition is pragmatic, moderate and has never called for violence. But neither the society as a whole, nor civil society in particular can accept the continuation of such a regime. Of course it is our duty as Tunisians and our responsibility, to achieve democracy and our second independence. But we do know that part of the arrogance of Ben Ali comes from the support he gets from the West, especially from the U.S. government. On behalf of an oppressed Tunisian people,let me thank those of you here from American civil society, including NGOs which have supporting and protecting human rights defenders and civil society advocates in different parts of the world, including in Tunisia. But let me remind the U.S. government that by supporting a dictator like Ben Ali and others like him in the Arab world , hoping that they will help with the war on terror , they are mistaking the arsonists for the fire fighters. ***